A (Vice) presidential presence

Biden introduces new sexual assault guidelines during visit to university

By DANIELLE CURTIS
On April 5, 2011

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Vice President Joe Biden called for action in preventing sexual assaults on college campuses and praised UNH for the work it's done so far to combat sexual violence in his speech in the Granite State Room yesterday.

Biden, along with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, visited the university to introduce guidance to help schools, colleges and universities better understand their legal obligations under federal civil rights laws to prevent and respond to the issue of sexual assault on campuses nationwide.

Biden, who sponsored the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, has long been an advocate for protecting women from sexual and domestic abuse.

Duncan was first to address the crowd of nearly 800 students, faculty and community members, saying that although school officials often wish sexual violence did not exist, the issue cannot be ignored.

"Too often our country has tried to deny that sexual violence occurs in our schools," Duncan said. "That denial must end."

Duncan continued, saying that the primary goal of the new guidelines is to prevent sexual assault through education.

"Information is always the best way to combat sexual violence," Duncan said. "Our larger goal is to raise awareness to an issue that should have no place in society, and especially in our schools."

Biden took the podium next, introduced by UNH student Sara Jane Bibeau, and praised UNH for the work it has done to educate its students about sexual violence and how it can be prevented, calling the university a "model for the country."

"I wish every university had a little more UNH Wildcat in them," Biden said, drawing applause from the crowd.

Biden cited programs such as the Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP), which was one of the first on-campus crisis centers when it was introduced in 1988. SHARPP provides confidential services to victims of sexual violence and prevention programming to UNH students, faculty and staff.

Biden also praised several of UNH's nationally-recognized programs, such as its Bringing in the Bystander program, which uses workshops and the Know-Your-Power social marketing campaign to combat sexual violence on campus.

Despite this praise, however, Biden said there is still much work to be done at UNH and around the nation to prevent sexual abuse of young women and men, a problem that Biden called America's "dirty little secret."

According to Biden, domestic violence has decreased by 50 percent in the U.S. since the passage of the VAWA 17 years ago, but the crisis hotline set-up by that law still receives 22,400 calls each month.

Biden said that he is determined to end domestic and sexual violence in this country because of his father, who taught him that sexual abuse is the "cardinal sin of all sins."

Lessons like this, Biden told his audience, need to be better taught by American schools in order to prevent even more sexual abuse among teens and college students.

"It is the responsibility of colleges and community colleges to be proactive in protecting rights of women on campus," Biden said. "Rape is rape is rape, and the sooner we make that clear, the sooner we'll make progress on campuses."

Biden then addressed the men in the crowd, calling upon them to fight against the sexual abuse of women in their personal lives and by speaking up when they witness abuse.

"I'm asking you to take a pledge to yourself," Biden said. "Promise yourself you will speak up … it takes a lot of courage to go against convention."

Biden was emotional throughout his speech, quietly telling stories about real victims and loudly reminding the audience that "No means no."

It was this emotion, said Student Body President Richard Peyser, that most affected him while listening to the vice president speak.

"You could see the glimmer in his eyes," Peyser said after the speech. "He was almost tearing up telling the horrendous stories [of victims] and how it affected not only them but their friends and families."

Peyser said that while sexual assaults are something he doesn't like to think would happen at UNH, he knows it is an issue and that there is still plenty that students and staff at the university can do to put a stop to sexual violence.

"We are the first line to prevention," Peyser said. "There's a lot of good progress here, but it's not perfect, nothing ever will be. We need to overcome stigma."

In his concluding words, Biden also urged UNH students to do their best to prevent sexual violence among their peers.

"We have our work cut out for us, but trust me, attitudes can change," Biden said. "Violence against women can end, but it can't without you all speaking up."


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